Competes with his son Rio in races as #TeamAngelWolf, to encourage awareness, acceptance, inclusion and equality of people with disabilities
In the 20 years that Nick has been in the UAE he’s never felt alone. When he and his wife Delphine arrived with nothing more than just their backpacks, they felt the usual anxiety pangs of a fresh expat but these lasted only a few months. Being an ex-British Royal Marine and a qualified personal trainer – Delphine is a qualified physical trainer as well – the couple set up U-Concept to provide one-on-one physical fitness training.
Within no time, the couple were visiting their clients at their homes, offering them customised physical training routines. The couple established such a strong bond with their clients that they soon became friends, invited to weddings and special occasions. ‘Through all our highs and lows and experiences, we have never been alone; at times of need or support in some way, strangers of all ages, genders, abilities, nationalities, religions became close friends, lifetime friends, surrogate family. It has made us incredibly grateful,’ says Nick.
Just when the Watsons thought they had found their footing in a foreign land, they learnt their first-born Rio, who is now 13, had a rare chromosome disorder called 1q44 deletion denovo syndrome. It causes seizures, sensory integration dysfunction, learning difficulties, gross and fine motor challenges.
‘Rio had his first crippling seizure when he was six months old. By the time we reached a doctor, he was fine, so the doctor could not determine the cause. It took the doctors almost four years to know that Rio has a chromosomal disorder that affects his development,’ explains Nick.
When Friday featured Nick in its January 23, 2009 issue, highlighting his never-say-die spirit, Nick says he was delighted that the article created more awareness about what differently-abled children are capable of, and Rio’s condition in particular.
The condition has not affected Rio’s disposition, however. While Nick, Delphine and their daughter Tia are the ‘wolves’, Rio is the angel of the team. ‘Rio is such a happy boy and he is happiest when we are participating in races. In fact the only time he’s unhappy is when the race is over,’ says Nick. Whenever the Watsons take part in a race under the name #TeamAngelWolf, Rio is a part of the journey in some way. The father-son duo take part in a race or another every weekend during the season.
Explaining the process, Nick says, ‘If it’s a swimming race, then Rio is strapped in a kayak that I drag; if it’s cycling, Rio’s in an adapted wheelchair; if we’re taking part in a vertical marathon, then I put him in an adapted baby wrap strapped to my back.’
Rio’s enthusiasm and the fact that ‘he is fully accepted, included and integrated into the racing community, without sympathy or pity’ has been one of the inspirations behind the Watsons’ initiative called Reaching U that provides a platform engaging families with special needs children, raising awareness about their condition.
‘Rio has changed our lives and directed our destiny. He has proved to us that there is no limit to what he can be included in, only our own inability or limitations for trying them! He has inspired so many.’
When Friday interviewed Abdul Muqeet Mannan in 2012 he was 10 years old. But what he lacked in age, he made up in determination. The youngest recipient of the Abu Dhabi Awards, which recognises those who have made a difference in the emirate, Abdul made paper bags using old newspapers and distributed them to grocery stores near his home. He then encouraged them to use his bags instead of plastic ones.
‘After the article on me appeared in Friday magazine, schools and corporate organisations across the UAE invited me to talk about the environment,’ says Abdul.
Soon he was offering lessons to his schoolmates and friends on how to make paper bags ‘and the campaign spread across the country,’ he says. Over the years, Abdul has received many awards that celebrate his dedication to recycling, from the US Kids Are Heroes award and Times Now NRI of The Year to the Princess Diana award, signed by then UK Prime Minister David Cameron. What’s his biggest achievement?
‘The fact that I’ve been able to create awareness about the ill effects of plastic bags on our environment and in the seven years since I started, many countries, schools and organisations have banned the use of plastic bags. After my visit to Varanasi, the local railway station banned plastic bags,’ he says with pride. Not one to rest on his laurels, Abdul plans to set up conservation clubs involving schoolchildren.
Next up: a career in cars, he says: ‘I would like to become an automobile engineer and make eco-friendly cars that have zero carbon emissions.’
Nick says the article in Friday created more awareness about what differently abled children are capable of
Abdul believes that the article on him helped create more awareness in society about recycling